My Turn: SEC decision will be written on state’s landscape

For the Monitor
Monday, January 29, 2018

Whether drawn by the carved glacial streams in Franconia Notch, the well-traveled pathways up Mount Washington, the Appalachian Trail, or the renowned fall foliage, every year thousands of Americans trek up to New Hampshire to explore the Granite State’s pristine landscape and gorgeous scenery.

But in 2018, this irreplaceable historic landscape faces a dire threat.

If approved, the impending Northern Pass transmission project would cut through nearly 200 miles of this scenic landscape with approximately 1,500 large steel towers and cables, hindering New Hampshire’s tourism economy and permanently disrupting the experience of this quintessential American treasure for future generations.

In its current form, the Northern Pass project would require installing high-voltage towers and cables all the way from Quebec to Southern New England. These eyesores would harm many of the state’s most scenic and historic areas, including nationally significant resources like Franconia Notch, the White Mountains National Forest and the John Wingate Weeks Historic Site atop Mount Prospect.

That is why this project is opposed by landowners, municipalities, and preservation and conservation groups across the state, including the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, the Forest Society and the Appalachian Mountain Club. From the overlooks in Sugar Hill, where the proposed lines will disrupt distinct and panoramic views, to Franconia Notch where property values have already dropped due to the plan, residents have spoken out.

This threatened natural destruction also runs contrary to New Hampshire’s storied history as a place of respite; by the early 19th century, the state was already a valued sojourn for American artists and authors, such as Thomas Cole, Albert Bierstadt and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Later, poet Robert Frost also considered the state a home and sanctuary, as well as the inspiration for his Pulitzer Prize-winning poem volume New Hampshire. From these famed artists and writers, to families and adventurers today, New Hampshire has continually stunned visitors and residents with panoramic views dotted with idyllic farms and homesteads.

The Northern Pass project directly threatens not just tourism dollars and property values, but this essential New Hampshire ethos.

Proponents of the Northern Pass tout its ability to bring jobs and economic prosperity to the region. But this argument ignores that the majority of these jobs will be short lived, lasting only as long as construction, while the project will have long-term negative impacts on both the tourism and real estate industries.

Tourism alone is one of New Hampshire’s largest industries, generating more than 74,000 jobs and contributing more than $15.2 billion to the state’s economy. This is not a good trade-off.

There are alternatives that could bring power to New England without unduly destroying the landscape.

On Tuesday, the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee will begin the public deliberation phase of its review of the Northern Pass project. The SEC has the power to reject the project or order conditions, like burial, that would avoid harming the state’s scenic, environmental, and historic resources.

During these deliberations, we urge the committee to prioritize the needs of New Hampshire’s long-standing communities, environment, and history before forever disrupting these special places.

Ultimately, New Hampshire’s history is written across its landscapes. From Native American communities to early farms and industry to modern-day residents, tourists and hikers, its rugged mountains, dense forests, lakes, river valleys and sea coast have shaped how people use the land.

The Site Evaluation Committee’s decision on the Northern Pass Project will be written directly on that beautiful landscape, and impact it for generations to come.

Let’s make the right decision for New Hampshire and its future.

(Stephanie K. Meeks is the president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the co-author of “The Past and Future City: How Historic Preservation is Reviving America’s Communities.”)